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Picking a Lineup of 23

Jürgen Klinsmann, head coach of the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT), has named his 30-man preliminary roster for the 2014 World Cup this summer. The final print-out of tickets to Brazil will be handed-out June 2nd for 23 lucky gentlemen men who will receive the honor to don the Red, White & Blue on the biggest soccer/footballing stage in the world.

The list is a dynamic collection of past World Cup stand-outs, familiar MLS veterans and a small group of European-based youngsters who will surely guide the USMNT the next several years. Here is the breakdown of the roster, courtesy of Yahoo! Sports:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa), Tim Howard (Everton), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

DEFENDERS (11): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Timmy Chandler (Nürnberg), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders), Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim), Michael Parkhurst (Columbus Crew), DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)

MIDFIELDERS (10):
Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana), Brad Davis (Houston Dynamo), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg), Maurice Edu (Philadelphia Union), Julian Green (Bayern Munich), Jermaine Jones (Besiktas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FORWARDS (6):
Jozy Altidore (Sunderland), Terrence Boyd (Rapid Vienna), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Aron Johannsson (AZ Alkmaar), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

There are an infinite number of variables that will play out in Brazil with an infinite number of potential results, actions and reactions. Is this roster perfect? Depends on who is answering. Were there a couple players I wished were given a shot at training with the USMNT for the past couple years? Yes, but it’s too late now.

At this point, the most critical question that should be asked is whether there is a combination of 11-16 players who will start and/or serve as super-subs for those moments when playing Ghana, Portugal and Germany when the U.S will have their backs against the wall with multiple goals needed in a 22-minute span after going down 2-nil in the 68′. Or maybe a star player will go down with a surprise injury. Can someone make a name for himself and for the team in a situation of desperation? Fortunately for American fans, Coach Klinsmann has shown his proficiency and an expertise for “the super-sub” during several games the past couple years with surprisingly fast, fantastic results.

But how will these super-subs fare against super competition?

Without knowing the final 23-man roster, it’s difficult to begin examining on-field formations. There will a post with this analysis after the final roster is named in early June.

For now, it’s appropriate to analyze this roster. First off, was it a good idea to leave off Eddie Johnson? Yes. And yes again. In fact, thank you Jürgen Klinsmann.

Looking at the names above, it’s a legitimate inquiry to wonder what kind of team Klinsmann wants in Brazil. Filled with predictable, safe and known entities? Open and unpredictable with a bevy of next-generation USMNT leaders? Or a combination in-between? He’s got a few World Cup freshman in Mix Diskerud (23), Aron Johannsson (23), Terrence Boyd (23) and Julian Green (18) who could really shake the USMNT’s cherry tree of founding principles with dynamic, fearless play. Are either of them in or near their prime? No. But there is something about talented freshman, regardless of sport, where they play just because they want to have fun without backing down to anybody. They’ll try things. They’ll experiment with a move here and there, a clever combination play here and there or with shots that get past the goalkeeper here and there.

When you’re competing against world-class talent and world-class coaching, the element of surprise cannot be underestimated.

Even if you don’t see it coming.

OH-It’s Good to be Home

Crew Stadium will once again play the patriotic host to a pivotal World Cup qualifying match. This evening, under a Midwestern blanket of stars, the United States of America will battle “That Team Down South.”

The stands will be painted with jerseys and shirts that will proudly showcase the brightest and boldest color combinations of red, white and blue. The chanting and support will be relentless because, honestly, it’s the USMNT’s homecoming.

The fans, players and coaches all know what’s waiting for them. Kickoff is set for 8:00 p.m. on ESPN, but the excitement has been building since the last match four years ago.

The stage is set for another defining 90 minutes of American soccer.

For the United States, tonight’s game can (should) provide this squad with a unique window into the future. Can the Americans regroup after suffering an embarrassing loss in Costa Rica 3-1 in a matter of just a few days with a depleted starting lineup (injury and yellow card accumulations)? Like today, and potentially during the summer of 2014 in Brazil, can the red-white and blue prove to have a short memory. When maximum points and victories are necessary and when the team is forced to travel between games, will Jürgen Klinsmann’s team rise to the occasion?

When an individual is under pressure, there are only two reactions: get crushed or push back.

The United States vs. Mexico is an incredible soccer rivalry. Luckily for the American players and fans, they will feel right at home in Columbus, Ohio. In the three World Cup Qualifying games played between these two nations at Crew Stadium (2001, 2005 and 2009), the United States has won all three games with a final tally of 2-nil.

Or, in better words: Dos a Cero.

There have been great goals, hard tackles, beautiful passes, yellow cards and McBride’s “eye wide shut.”

With three games left in World Cup qualifying and a point differential of 1 between the United States and first-place Costa Rica, 5 between the U.S. and Mexico and 6 between Costa Rica and Mexico, tonight’s match is critical for both teams.

The stakes are undeniably high. The rivalry is real. This is the game and Crew Stadium is the venue!

To build the suspense even more, there will be several intriguing story lines playing out tonight in the heat inside (but really outside) the house Lamar built.

  • Without the maestro in the middle, can the U.S. be guided without the quiet, steady leadership of Michael Bradley?
  • How will Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey play together in such a vitally important game? Will they be the catalysts or finishers on goals?
  • Will Mexico, having fired its head coach last Saturday morning, be dejected or inspired by pride?
  • How many yellow and red cards will the ref show or not show?
  • Will Chicharito (Javier Hernández Balcázar) play like a Manchester United star?
  • Besides Tim Howard, which American player will take the strategic and emotional leadership role tonight? FYI-This responsibility is not limited to the man wearing the captain’s armband…
  • Does the American side have a reliable and dependent back line?
  • Will the United States of America pull off another paramount victory in front of its best crowd?

Now, the most critical question: will it be miraculously cold tonight like back in 2001? The forecast says mid-80s, so probably not. But remember: this is Columbus, where the hopes and dreams of American soccer fans, players and coaches come true…

Plus, it all depends on how you define “cold.”

Another 2-nil win for the U.S. could seriously start to freeze the hopes of a berth to the 2014 World Cup in sunny Brazil for “That Team Down South.”

I’m getting chills just thinking about it!

It’s So Easy a Caveman…Maybe Not

Last night, in the hot spring air of Cleveland, Ohio, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team played a friendly against Belgium. A final score in soccer can have a variety of meanings. For instance, a 1-nil affair could be thrilling or downright dull. In the case of the 4-2 final score between the U.S. and Belgium, it too had its defining dynamics.

The Belgians were terrific at making quick, cutting runs towards the goal while moving fluidly on counter-attacks while the United States’ defense looked like a castle with no draw bridge when the enemy charged. Combine the two together and there’s the final tally of 4-2. After each mistake the defensive backline of the U.S. made, the commentator, former MLS (& briefly USMNT) player Taylor Twellman, rigidly defended (at least one American was defensive last night) how the errors in the defense were easily fixable.

The score was 1-1 at halftime.

Then, during a fifteen minute span (56′-71′), the sharply dressed Belgians put three past the Americans to make the game a quintessential blowout. Again, patience was professed by Twellman regarding the latest, yet still “easily fixable” mistakes of the defense. We the fans just need to continue to be patient for these defenders to develop.

Three years ago during the World Cup in South Africa, the backline consistently conceded a goal within the first ten minutes or so of a game. Its predictability deserved its own mathematical proof. As it was said then too, the players in the back were still great defenders and all of this was just bad luck or was, again, “easily fixable.”

It was never fixed.

What we the fans and the team needs is not patience in the defense anymore, but rather serious changes in personnel. The “easily fixable” mistakes continue to happen over and over and over again. The defenders are not defending. This is a minor problem when you’re a defender. Perhaps, these players are not capable of making the easy fixes. The bottom line is that the wrong combination of players are being assigned to play directly in front of Tim Howard. Of all the lines in any formation for any team, the defense needs to be the most solid and have the strongest foundation. Period. Think about the backline of a chess or checkers game…

(And yes, I’m aware Carlos Bocanegra (34) and Steve Cherundolo (34) were both absent. However, the World Cup is about a year away and must-win qualifiers are right around the corner and conceding goals in bunches is a recipe for disaster)

Twellman also said during the broadcast that defender DaMarcus Beasley could catch anyone on the field with his recovery speed. False. He literally stopped running when coming back to defend a Belgian attack and his mark was the player who, seconds later, calmly played the ball across the box to his teammate who scored a goal.

Omar Gonzalez, heralded as a “great defender,” was absent-minded on the first Belgian goal as he stopped defending his mark around the American’s penalty box. He was absent-minded during other critical moments throughout the course of the game. Geoff Cameron (also a “great defender”) was directly responsible for the first goal as he stopped running and covering his man after an initial shot by the Belgian and save by Howard. The rebound by his mark was an easy slice into the back of Howard’s net (I will give Cameron isolated props for getting the equalizer at 1-1 about fifteen minutes later). On another occasion, Beasley literally bounced off his mark and the Belgian was then able to easily cut to the top of the 18-yard box for an uncontested shot on goal. Quite frankly, Beasley is not strong enough to be a defender.

The only bright side of the defense may have been Clarence Goodson.

The problem in soccer is that each team is only afforded three substitutions and having to replace your entire backline is usually not an encouraging sign.

P.S. I think Chad Marshall and Josh Williams own cell phones…and after watching Brad Guzan, add Andy Gruenebaum to the call list as well.